An Introduction to Ray Charles
Ray Charles has had and immense impression on the music industry. His hard work, creativity and talent enabled him to be a trailblazer of soul music. He was heavily influenced by Nat King Cole and other county, jazz, R&B and blues artists. Ray Charles has been one of the most influential African American musicians in the late 20th century. Charles was destined to become a musician, showing musical talent as early as six years old.
Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson in Albany, Georgia on September 23rd, 1930. His mother, whose name was Aretha Williams, moved him to Greenville, Florida just shortly after he was born. By the age of seven years old Ray Charles had already lived through two incredibly traumatic experiences.
When Charles was five he lost his brother, George, who was only about. A year younger than him. As they would usually, the two of them were playing out back but this time was different. George had climbed into the tub. He had seemed like he was having a ball, hollering and kicking his legs. Once Charles had realized that that this time was different. After his failed attempts at pulling George out himself he frantically ran and yelled for his mother. Despite her attempts at reviving him that day George had died by drowning.
It was not too far after his brother’s death that Charles began to lose his vision, and by the age of seven he was completely blind. Soon after his mother sent him to a school for the blind in St. Augustine. Charles was able to learn braille pretty quickly and even went so far at learn how to carve, and weave cane to make chairs, brooms, mops and pot holders.
After the death of Charles mother, when he was fifteen years old, he decided that he was going to have to make his own way. Before anything else Charles realized that singing was apart or him. When he was living in L.A. the styles. Of bebop and blues were heavy on his mind. In that time, he wanted his name to follow every mention of blues or jazz. Starting off as a single was very had and he struggled a lot, but it would eventually pay off.
Some of Charles first tour was with Lowell Fulson’s band, which gave exposure to his song “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” or “Kissa Me, Baby”. Performing his own songs and playing with the band afforded him what became $50 per night. Charles had become the musical director for the band, by taking charge of rehearsals and incorporating some of his own arrangements, without charging Lowell just because he didn’t know that he should.
The start to Charles’ career also came with the abundance of women and drugs. Although he a had no crazy stories due to drugs he was definitely a user. He mentioned being on the road and being only able to get heroin when in major cities. When he could find connections that he trusted to buy from.
After about a year and a half of working with Lowell’s band he split and began working on his own again.
Ray Charles’ first recordings were made when he was only seventeen years old. Using the instrumentation of Nat Cole and Charles Brown, which were the two people who influenced him most musically. Before Atlantic Charles had already made over forty songs, many of which did well.
In the fifties Charles began to play more R&B music, exploring a different form of the blues with Atlantic Records. In 1954 Ray Charles first sang “I Got a Woman” which is one of his most recognizable songs, even in the 21st century. While making several great albums with Atlantic records, his popularity increased tremendously. That lead him to headline not only at the Apollo Theatre but places Such as Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Once Charles moved on the ABC- Paramount Records his music only continued to grow. He received a total of four Grammy Awards for his infamous songs, “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack”. In his time with them he made over twenty albums.
In his last years he was signed to Columbia Records and produced seven more songs ending off his career. All while his successful career is going on Ray Charles was married twice and had several children. Besides that, in his personal life Charles was a drug user and became addicted to heroin. Those habits caused him many legal issues, which were reflected in the topics of his music.
Death and Legacy
Ray Charles died due to his fight with cancer in 2004 at 73 years of age. However, his legacy lives on. Ray Charles has been given a multitude of awards including the National Medal of Arts, 17 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and honorary degree form Dillard University, a Polar Music Prize and a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has also been inducted into the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation and received the Kennedy Center Honors. There is a Ray Charles Foundation which was founded in 1986. It was originally called “The Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders” with a mission of making donations in support of institutions and organizations for educational purposes. That mission is being reflected in incredible ways such as the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College.
Being blind is a circumstance many could not handle but for Ray Charles was still grateful because he could hear and feel.
Charles, Ray, and David Ritz. Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2004.
Donovan, Sandra. The African American Experience. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2011.
Jarrett, Michael. Producing Country: the inside Story of the Great Recordings. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2014.
Lydon, Michael. Ray Charles Man and Music, Updated Commemorative Edition. London: Taylor and Francis, 2004.
Mendelson, Aaron. American R & B: Gospel Grooves, Funky Drummers, and Soul Power. Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books, 2013.
Sloate, Susan. Ray Charles: Find Another Way! NY, NY: Bearport Publishing, 2007.
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